Qumran is an important archaeological site near the Dead Sea where many important biblical manuscripts were discovered. The Dead Sea is the name given to the body of water that the Bible calls the Salt Sea (Genesis 14:3; Numbers 34:12; Joshua 3:16). In the Old Testament the Dead Sea is also called Sea of the Arabah (Deuteronomy 3:17); and the Eastern Sea (Ezekiel 47:18; Zechariah 14:8). The ruins of Qumran are located some eight miles south of Jericho and almost a mile northwest of the Dead Sea.
The caves of Qumran were discovered in the spring of 1947, one day when two Bedouin shepherds were looking for a goat which had gone stray. As they searched for the goat, they came to a cave in which they discovered several jars, one of which contained seven leather scrolls. The two shepherds brought the scrolls to an antiquity dealer in Bethlehem. The seven scrolls were written in Hebrew and Aramaic. Upon closer examination, archaeologists confirmed that the scrolls found at Qumran were part of several books of the Old Testament.
After the initial discovery of the scrolls, archaeologists excavated approximately three hundred caves. They discovered almost eight hundred manuscripts and thousands of small fragments of ancient manuscripts. These manuscripts and fragments consisted of copies of biblical books, commentaries on the biblical books, and sectarian literature. Most of these materials have already been published.
Some of the scrolls found at Qumran also included Old Testament pseudepigrapha. The pseudepigrapha are pseudonymous writings attributed to various biblical personalities, such as patriarchs and prophets. However, these texts whose claimed author is not the true author, were composed within approximately 200 years of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The most famous of the books discovered at Qumran is the almost complete scroll of the prophet Isaiah, which is housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. The scroll of Isaiah was twenty-four feet long. It was written in Hebrew and is almost identical to the book of Isaiah in our Hebrew Bible. It is also known as the St. Mark’s Monastery Isaiah Scroll, since it was owned by St. Mark Monastery.
Other books of importance are The Manual of Disciples, a scroll containing the rules for the Essene Community; the Commentary on the Book of Habakkuk, a running commentary on the first two chapters of Habakkuk; the Genesis Apocryphon, a scroll containing some apocryphal stories about Lamech, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham; and the Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness. This last scroll is a manual written to instruct the members of the community how to fight a war against their enemies.
The identity of the inhabitants of Qumran is a debatable point among scholars today. Many scholars associate the Dead Sea Scrolls and the people who lived in Qumran with the Essenes. The Essenes were members of a Jewish sect who lived in Palestine. The Essene community was established in the first or second century B.C. and flourished in the time of Christ.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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